We are sending out this special legislative update to alert you to new developments regarding a bill that many prosecutors oppose this session.
Grand jury reform
We told you in last week’s update that “all schedules are tentative, all notices are inadequate, and all guarantees are fleeting.” In that vein, a prosecutor has given us reliable information that SB 1424 by Buckingham (R-Lakeway)—the Senate version of this session’s omnibus grand jury reform bill—may be set for a hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee tomorrow afternoon. The current posted notice for that regularly-scheduled hearing does not include SB 1424, but bills can be added with little or no notice by a committee chairman.
For those of you who need a quick reminder about this bill’s topic, read our updates on its companion, HB 2640 by S. Thompson (D-Houston), from Week 9 and Week 14 and Week 15. That House bill was eventually voted out of committee this past Saturday in a very watered-down form (see attached), but too late in the session for the bill to meet the House’s deadlines. That bill is now dead. However, the Senate bill has never been heard in committee, so it is likely to be the last opportunity for major grand jury reform this session. And as you know, limiting grand jury secrecy is an idea supported by some very powerful past and current public officials in this state, so any bill that is still alive has the potential to pass quickly.
Accordingly, any prosecutor who wishes to oppose this bill needs to take appropriate steps ASAP. That could include:
1) Coming to Austin Tuesday to personally register opposition or testify on the bill. (See the hearing notice for time and location; the earliest start time is 1:30 p.m., but it is likely to begin later.)
2) If you know a senator on the Criminal Justice Committee, calling him/her to register your opposition to the bill.
Rob and Shannon will be working on this bill all day tomorrow, so call or email them with questions. We will have more information for you later in the week as time allows.
Quote of the Week
You know it isn’t an official TDCAA legislative update unless we finish with a good quote, right?
“These [grand jury] procedures were originally meant to provide checks and balances against oppressive prosecution or potential witch hunts. Today, however, those proceedings sometimes give state prosecutors an unfair advantage over the accused, even when the accused are innocent of any crime.”
—State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), explaining why she filed HB 2640, her “grand jury reform” bill [this quote is from our Week 10 update in March].